Lisbon, Porto, Douro Valley, Tomar, Cascais
Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.
Explore living, breathing UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a dozen of them visited on this 11-day Portugal private tour with an expert historical guide. Portugal’s World Heritage Sites are dreamy and distinctive, unusual and unconnected from what you will find elsewhere in Europe. A garrison town, a ceramic-inspired cobbled city, charming rows of vines, inimitable Gothic monasteries, Paleolithic art and you will only just be getting started.
Lisbon – The Gregarious Welcome of the Historical City
Lisbon is always quick to showcase the inimitability of Portugal. Every neighborhood has a different feel, and every street is entirely distinctive, from the grand avenues near Baixa to the narrow cobbled lanes in Bairro Alto. Everywhere you turn, you will find history that comes into the present in a different way. You will be met at the airport, and it will be a short transfer to your boutique hotel in the heart of the city. The rest of the day will be at your leisure, and Lisbon is a delightful city to wander without a map. For a more complete insight into the neighborhoods, you can take the yellow tramcar 28 across the hills.
Lisbon – Emblems of Belem: Jeronimos Monastery and Belem Tower
Emblematic monuments stand proudly along the River Tagus in Bethlehem, Belem being the Portuguese name for the district. They are a tribute to the country’s golden era and memoirs to the Age of Discovery that has not changed since the 16th century. First Belem Tower, with its sculpted façade that details the voyages of Vasco da Gama and towers high above you, baffling in its scale. Then the Jeronimos Monastery, the ultimate representation of Portugal’s Manuelino style.
At first glance, both monuments have a beautiful early 16th-century style, but with an expert historical guide, you can piece together the building blocks of Manuelino. Late Gothic ghouls and sculpted guardians, the large grand blocks of Plateresque are elements of the Italian Renaissance with elaboration taken from the Flemish. They come together harmoniously and effortlessly, just like so much you are going to discover in Portugal. What starts as seemingly disparate jigsaw pieces becomes a sum greater than the individual parts. After a morning in Belem, your guide can tailor an afternoon’s tour to your interests with a chance to stop for a pastry at the famous Pastel de Belem.
Porto – Extravagant Gothic Architecture of Portugal
Legends live on throughout the north of Portugal as beneath the fortified city walls you can explore the medieval streets of Obidos. Wander past a huge Moorish castle and then to a city plaza that will be covered in aromas of espresso and boiled pork. Crossing green hills you will weave north, the next stop one of the oldest cities in Portugal, Alcobaca. A 12th-century church and monastery reflect the changing of the guard in Iberia, constructed by the first king of Portugal to celebrate the re-conquest from the Moors. Stand beneath the vaulted halls and admire the detail that drips down the original facade, and then listen to the stories as you explore the royal crypt.
Another breathtaking Gothic monastery can be seen in Batalha. You will recognize the contrasts and how the style has evolved throughout the Gothic period from the original in Alcobaca to this final example that is partially morphing into the Manueline style. Both of the monasteries are World Heritage sites, as is the historical center of Oporto, the day’s final destination. You will arrive in the city’s narrow lanes around late afternoon, and the rest of the day will be at your leisure. Take a stroll and admire the ceramic tiles for a wonderful introduction to this blue city and the capital of the north.
Porto – The Historical Center of Oporto
Scenes are painted onto the ceramics with thousands of individual tiles fitting together to form large mosaics. The grand old buildings are dominated by these tiles, as are the everyday structures and simple townhouses. Gazing up at the blue tiles, your other senses are slowly tantalized. Pungent espresso and sweet port wine are both smells that drift from seafood kitchens as footsteps echo on the cobbles, a church bell ringing in the distance and traders shout up to the rooftops as they wander past with trays of nuts.
Porto has a breathtaking historical center, worthy of its UNESCO World Heritage status. But like all the UNESCO sites in the country, the history blurs into the present to compel you further with every turn. On a relaxed city tour, you will witness the architectural symbols like the neoclassical Stock Exchange Palace and the old stone cathedral, the finest examples of the ceramics and the delectable baroque artwork that adorns interiors. At some point during the day, you will cross the Douro River to Vila Nova de Gaia where all of the world’s port cellars line up beside each other. Enjoy a tasting before an hour-long cruise on the river and a second relaxed evening in the city.
Porto – Exploring The City of Churches and Medieval Guimaraes
Far northern Portugal basks in tradition. The architecture is unique, exemplified by the monumental staircase that winds up the Cathedral of Braga tower. Nearby Guimaraes was the country’s first capital, where the Palace of the Dukes and Guimaraes Castle immerse you in the style of the Middle Ages. Travel slowly today, the destinations seemingly frozen in the past, the icons preserving both architectural integrity and atmosphere. Guimaraes is a World Heritage site, and you will enjoy a traditional lunch on the main plaza, with the al fresco terrace your window onto the city’s present. It will be back to Porto later in the afternoon for a final night along the river to watch the tiled facades change tone with the setting of the sun.
Douro Wine Region – Charm and Seduction of the Douro River Landscape
Europe’s particular method of labeling wine originated in the Douro Valley, and it was this charming landscape that first put into practice a set of viticulture standards to be adhered to, building trust in the universal quality of the wine produced in the region, and helping to spread it to international markets. That was back in the 18th century, and the Denominacion de Origen model has since been copied by most of the world’s revered wine regions. And this is just part of the region’s recent history. The Douro Valley extends tradition from viticulture to almost everything else in the region.
Take a leisurely journey through this World Heritage region, twisting through the small towns, surrounded by the elegant swathes of vineyards. You’ll stop at two historic wine estates, learning the secrets of the wines with the winemakers. If weather permits you have a picnic amid the vines, and if it doesn’t then one of the vineyards has a sublime terrace for lunchtime dining. Spend the night in a small village in the heart of the UNESCO-accredited valley, where the tradition is omnipresent.
Douro Wine Region – Prehistoric Rock Art in the Coa Valley and More Enduring Douro Landscapes
History stretches back much further than wine in the Douro. In the haunting caves of the Coa Valley, you can find sketches and stories engraved into the rock that dates from the Upper Paleolithic Period. One painting has been inscribed in stone for more than 15,000 years. An archaeological guide will take over your tour this morning and provide a very detailed analysis of why and how, as well as what the rock art means for modern civilization. Your rock art tour will fill your morning, but your afternoon is incredibly relaxed and a chance to visit one or two more vineyards and escape into the ambiance of the past.
Tomar – World Heritage University of Coimbra and the Last Templar Town
Grandeur drips down the walls of Coimbra University, one of the oldest academic institutions in the world. Porticos are embellished with Gothic ghouls, halls shimmer with golden excess and ceilings are painted in the colors of the 13th century. Of all of Portugal’s World Heritage Sites, the university buildings are probably the most visually breathtaking, the single postcard images that can summarize the beauty and style of old-world Portugal. Take your time in Coimbra to wander up the steep city streets and absorb the cluster of buildings that slope improbably over the alleys.
Whisper the name Templar Knights, and your mind immediately thinks of fables. Nowhere is their legend better represented than in Tomar, the last Templar town to be constructed. As you wander the Convent of Christ and hear tales of the fourth grand master, the Templar Knights come out of the surreal and into reality. And as you explore the physical memories of monks and Knights the old order becomes real. Spend your afternoon to soak up the history, and then spend the night in Tomar with every wall seeming to whisper the secrets of this ancient movement.
Cascais – Enchantment of Ancient Sintra and the Western Edge of Europe
Sintra’s landscape exudes a romanticism as palaces rise above wooded valleys with their turrets painted in juxtaposed colors. Trails lead along the slopes to Moorish castle remains as streets are packed with cobblestone and intrigue. The whole landscape exemplifies how Portugal has crafted its own style. Take the royal palace as an example as it was first mentioned in Moorish texts from the eighth century, the palace is dominated by peculiar chimneys that you can see from afar. Most of the facade remains Moorish, but when the Portuguese royal family moved in, they added Manueline touches, which shimmer evocatively against the whitewashed facade provided by the Moors.
This is just one of the palaces you can explore today, merely one example of romanticism on the forested hills at the edge of Europe. Enjoy a lunch in Sintra, reflecting on the town that won Lord Byron’s acclaim, and then continue out to the coast and the westernmost tip of the continent. It will then be a short drive along the cliffs as you wind above the Atlantic Ocean surf to the town of Cascais, a decadent hangout made famous by holidaying royalty in the 19th century. You will have dinner reservations at a seafood restaurant that is long renowned as one of the finest in the whole of Portugal.
Lisbon – Day Trip to the Delights of Alentejo
Sintra is all about glamour alongside soothing landscapes. Alentejo is wild and dusty, plains once populated by outlaws, where the towns remain heavily fortified against invasion. Celebrate the unique atmosphere in Evora, where the history dates back 2,000 years, and a Roman Temple has been wonderfully preserved. Old streets are dotted with monuments and churches with ceramic tiles juxtaposed against shimmering white arches and iron balconies. Deeper into the plains, you will find the garrison town of Elvas, where you can wander beneath its bulbous turrets and thick fortress walls. The atmosphere here feels stuck in the medieval days with hardly a slit in the walls to allow light to reach inside, the threat of invasion seeming to hang over the city. Both are World Heritage sites and see remarkably few tourists as cities that stoically protect their history into the present day. From here, you will travel back north to Lisbon, so you are closer to the airport for tomorrow’s departure. TimeOut Market is a great place for a farewell meal produced by one of Lisbon’s leading chefs.
Lisbon – Departure
After discovering 12 World Heritage Sites on your private tour, you will depart Portugal, the international airport a short transfer from your hotel.
- Admire the grandeur of Belem, a Lisbon district where two World Heritage Sites stand evocatively against the Tagus River
- Discover Portugal’s decadent architecture, the monasteries of Batalha and Alcobaca among the inspiring stops at the beginning of this luxury tour
- Immerse yourself in the historical city centers of Portugal, with a couple of days in Porto and a visit to medieval Guumaraes
- Cruise through the Douro River valley region as you wind through the decadent vineyard slopes and the charms of the past with evenings spent at villages in the region
- Travel further back in time in the Coa Valley, where Paleolithic rock art illustrates the age of Europe
- Wander through the last Templar town, Tomar, and admire the beauty of one of the world’s oldest universities, Coimbra
- Traverse the enchanting valleys of Alentejo with a stop to discover the cobbled town of Evora and the old garrison town of Elvas, both UNESCO World Heritage sites
- Travel alongside a private guide, an expert in Portuguese history that will add exhaustive insight to the living World Heritage sites
There are now more than a thousand World Heritage sites that are beacons of our planet’s illustrious and creative past. Few feel as alive as those in Portugal as dotted around the edge of the Iberian Peninsula, the Portuguese World Heritage sites are not museum pieces, but rather breathing parts of a country and a culture. You will be whisked away and into their atmosphere to be immersed in an old glory that continues to shape the present. Porto’s center, where footsteps echo beneath blue ceramic tiles and the scent of sweet wine emanates from the alleyways. Belem Tower, not merely a reminder of Vasco de Gama’s expedition but an inspiration for the city of Lisbon throughout its troubles and challenges. The Palace of the Town of Sintra, crafted before the Moors then elaborated by the Portuguese Crown, a symbol of centuries and styles blurring together.
Handpicking a dozen of the finest World Heritage sites in Portugal, this 11-day private tour celebrates the history of Portugal and its influence on the present. Travel alongside an expert local guide as you hop between the legacies, from historical towns on the hills to 18th-century vineyards in the Alto Douro, Paleolithic rock art to what the Templars left behind. Each of the sites comes from a different century, reflecting a national history that is full of complication and captivation, and by connecting such varied destinations, you will get a sense of why and how Portugal is so distinct from the rest of Europe.
Fly into Lisbon, a glorious capital city that is quick to provide a gregarious welcome. Your first World Heritage sites are Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery, some of the only remnants in the city to survive the 18th-century earthquake. Travel north a couple of days later to find extravagant Gothic architecture is the centerpiece of the towns you visit. You will have several nights in World Heritage Porto for a day dedicated to the architecture and the ambiance of the city and a day trip to the medieval charm that dominates the far north of the country.
Seductive and serene, the Douro Valley is the perfect interlude to exploration. Relax in the villages, go tasting at 18th-century vineyards, and lose yourself in the atmosphere of tradition. The Alto Douro Wine Region is a World Heritage site as is the Paleolithic rock art in the close by Cao Valley. Travel south next on an inland route past one of the world’s oldest university towns and the final Templar town in Portugal. Sintra’s cultural landscape of palaces and cobbles is your next destination, followed by the westernmost point of continental Europe and a regal seaside town from the 19th century. This will leave time to cross the barren and beautiful plains of Alentejo, where the World Heritage cities of Elvas and Evora are emblematic of Portugal as both are packed with soul and style. Begin planning your dream Portugal tour by connecting with one of our luxury Portugal travel agencies.
$2,195 per person (excluding international flights)
Your Zicasso trip is fully customizable, and this sample itinerary is a starting place for your travel plans. Actual costs are dynamic, and your selection of accommodations and activities, your season of travel, and other such variables will bring this budget guideline up or down. Throughout your planning experience with your Zicasso specialist, your itinerary is designed around your budget. You can book your trip when you are satisfied with every detail. Planning your trip with a Zicasso travel specialist is a free service.
- In-country transportation
- Some or all activities and tours
- Expert trip planning
- 24x7 support during your trip
Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
Reviews of Zicasso's Referral Service
4.93 stars based on 642 reviews
"We didn't need to think about ground transportation or...
Reviewed By Tim Z.
"His warmth and sense of humor shined through in our email...
Reviewed By Terry W.
"My wife and I were able to relax for 12 days and take in...
Reviewed By Chris G.
"We fit a lot in this trip thanks to the good planning."
Reviewed By Candi L.
"[Our travel planner] customized our itinerary to fit our...
Reviewed By Srinivas G.
"Filomena built an itinerary that perfectly suited our travel...
Reviewed By Patricia C.
Get Weekly Inspiration and Expert Advice on Travel
during the COVID and post-COVID era